CORDOVA, Tenn. — It was easy to tell the Hollywood Scientologists from the Memphis music people as they passed the gantlet of television cameras and entered the suburban Memphis megachurch to pay tribute to Isaac Hayes. They were on the whole paler and skinnier and showed rather more cleavage than is considered properly funereal here in the South.
The Memphians, on the other hand, tended toward vintage dresses and dark three-piece suits with expertly origamied handkerchiefs and matching ties.
Then there was the soul royalty, like Bootsy Collins, who wore a get-up involving wide pinstripes, a kerchief, and rhinestone-coated sunglass lenses with peepholes in the shape of stars, and the actual royalty, like Princess Naa Asie Ocansey of Ghana, who wore gold and red African finery and managed to get surprisingly low to the ground when she danced.
But there were also thousands of regular people, wearing regular clothes, who poured into the sanctuary of the Hope Presbyterian Church.
For a superstar known for his slick image and “bedroom baritone,” as one speaker called it, Hayes was deeply involved in the workaday life of his hometown, where he recently appeared on a billboard with a local congressman, Steve Cohen, who was fighting off a challenger. The billboard read, “Can you dig it?”
Hayes was also involved in literacy programs in Memphis schools, and in 1997, he and Lisa Marie Presley started the Church of Scientology Mission of Memphis.
“Isaac was not only a famous musician, but he was an accessible famous musician in his hometown,” said David Porter, with whom Hayes wrote “Soul Man” and other hits for Stax, the recording studio that defined what came to be known as the Memphis sound.
Hayes returned to his hometown seven years ago after a stint in New York, mostly to be closer to his 11 children and 16 grandchildren. He died at 65, after a stroke on Aug. 10 in his home.
There was oration by the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and musical interludes by Chick Corea, Kirk Whalum and Doug E. Fresh, the original human beatbox.
The jumbled hoopla seemed fitting for Hayes, a man who shaved his head at a time when Afros were chic, and cut an 18-minute track when songs were radio-ready at three minutes and change.
The stories fit into two general categories. Anne Archer and Kelly Preston, both actresses and Scientologists, detailed Hayes’ humanitarian work here and in Africa, while Al Bell, a co-owner of Stax, told how he came up with the name of Hayes’ first big album, “Hot Buttered Soul,” from a magazine advertisement for hot buttered rum.
Afterward, when asked what he made of the two factions coming together on one stage, Porter laughed. “Each of those components,” he said, “loved Isaac Hayes.”